Top Games of 2011: Ed Moffatt's Choices
By Ed Moffatt
As the "new guy", who hasn't written too many reviews for allaboutgames.co.uk so far, before stating my Top Games of 2011, I feel I should make a disclaimer. My gaming preferences are coloured by the fact that I suffer from motion sickness and this completely rules out anything first-person for me. So you will never find an FPS like Portal on my list because as brilliant as it may be, I cannot play it! This "gaming handicap" has driven me to favour rather different games to my fellow reviewers on this site, so you can expect a lot of variation between my selection and others' picks of 2011!
2011 suffered, in my opinion, from a lack of any good new JRPGs making it over to the UK (I can't speak for Japan-only titles, as I can't read Japanese, so my enjoyment of them would be somewhat hampered!). I played quite a few games that I really didn't like this year – particularly ones that made me feel rather uncomfortable with their over-use of innuendo and otherwise could have been quite enjoyable (I'm thinking Ar Tonelico, Prinny 2, etc.). I also think that nobody came up with a good new RPG battle system in 2011, and that's the main thing that I would like to see in 2012.
That said, these are the games that I've played and loved in 2011:
IN AT NUMBER 3: Sonic Generations (PC/PS3/Xbox 360)
I bought a Dreamcast on release day, and kept banging on to my friends how excited I was about Shenmue and how brilliant Sonic Adventure was. They generally responded with "what's a Dreamcast?". Then along came Sonic Adventure 2, and that was awesome too - SEGA seemed to be going from strength to strength.
Unfortunately, I was unaware at the time just how unsuccessful the Dreamcast was, and assumed childishly that everyone must love it as much as me. What followed was the end of SEGA's console line, and the rather shameless over-use of Sonic's name, attached to very speedily-developed and bad games across a whole range of consoles.
This background makes Sonic Generations all the more special: it's a really good Sonic game for the first time in ages! There are some bugs in the platforming, and a lot of the "challenge" missions are too easy, but it's slick, stylish and fun to play. The levels are brilliantly designed and there's of course plenty of nostalgia for old Sonic fans: hearing the music from Sonic Adventure make a return is probably one of my highlights of 2011 in itself!
Review (360) - 8/10
2nd PLACE: Persona 3 Portable (PSP)
The only JRPG on my list! This is definitely a worthy one, though. Atlus' Persona series gets a lot of stick for its two most recent instalments because of the very Japanese nature of the setting(!). You play a new kid in town, who must fight evil Shadows and get to the bottom of a classically RPG-level-grandiose story that could well result in the end of the universe (OMG!). At the same time however, and with equal importance, you must do well at school so that girls will like you, and spend enough time with the guy you met at swimming club to make sure that he sees your dedication to the friendship.
Take it with a pinch of salt, people! Sure, the Japanese have different stereotypes to us Westerners, but I cringe just as much when I see another game with Dwarfs and Elves fighting a dragon as when I see a spikey blue-haired protagonist angsting his way around a high school.
Now, Persona 3 is not a new game - it was released on the PS2 originally, then when it won a Game of the Year award and Atlus re-released it to celebrate. P3P is the PSP re-release of the same game, technically making it a re-re-release. Re-releases can feel like a cash-in on a successful title, but Atlus always give you the feeling that they're focused on the fans rather than the profits. The PS2 re-release featured a massive extra scenario set after the original game for players to enjoy, and this PSP version again makes major changes that make it worth a separate release.
For starters, you now have the option of a male or female protagonist (previously you had to be male), and your selection affects the story as well as the friendships (Social Links in Persona terminology) that you make along the way. Pretty cool already, but then Atlus also went and updated the battle mechanics, taking account of all the gripes forum-users had raised about the original game: you can now control all combatants in your party rather than relying on the AI, and features from Persona 4 such as allies' ability to take a fatal blow to defend the main character (reducing the risk of Game Overs) have been added in. To fit such a big game on to the PSP they had to cut some stuff out, but even that was done cleverly: scenes outside of the dungeons now play out like a point-and-click adventure, the player moving a cursor around with the PSP's thumbstick and hitting face-buttons to interact with objects in the scene. For me, this is a perfect modification: does anyone really enjoy having to walk from one side of town to the other to interact with an NPC? Maybe it's less immersive this way, and some may not like the change, but I thought it was a clever solution to cutting down the storage requirements without losing any of the story and speeding up some of the duller bits of RPG gaming in the process.
P3P has been lovingly crafted into the perfect hand-held RPG : it's a complete re-imagining of what was already a brilliant game so that it plays well on the PSP, and it even throws in plenty of new features to please fans who've played the original game before.
AND FINALLY, NUMBER 1: Mortal Kombat (PS3/Xbox 360)
I've never really been a fan of Mortal Kombat games; ever since I got into beat 'em ups on the SNES, I've been a bit of a Capcom and SNK fanboy, and the MK games just never seemed as smooth and responsive to play. This one, however, is a stand-out awesome game, and all the better because I wasn't expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. The main feature that pushed MK up to the top of my Game of the Year list is the story mode - this should be the future of the genre. In the past, companies would gradually pump up the roster of playable characters, allowing you to play through the same basic game (a series of fights ending in a boss-battle) using a variety of fighters. In between fights you might be rewarded by a bit of "story" in the form of still images of your character explaining to the fallen CPU opponent just how hard you kicked their ass. Complete the game and you'd once again be rewarded with some still images explaining some kind of loosely tied together story (or maybe a little movie-short in some series).
This traditional approach creates all sorts of stupid problems. For example, we all know that Liu Kang wins in the first Mortal Kombat tournament... Yet, if you select any of the other players to control and then beat the game, you get an ending sequence explaining that they in fact won, and indeed they may well have decapitated Liu Kang along the way. This has always bothered me. But thanks to the new MK's story mode, I need be bothered no longer! The usual "Arcade" mode has been relegated to a secondary gameplay option, and for its new flagship mode the game provides you with a scenario to play through that involves trying out (and also unlocking) plenty of the playable characters. Whoever you're playing as, you follow their part of the story, but everything ties together. As such, when you're killing Sub Zero, you'll be playing as Scorpion; when you're winning the first tournament, you'll be playing as Liu Kang.
The mechanics and balance in MK were not as good as Street Fighter IV, the character models are just awful, and to be honest, the story is a little bit silly. Those are the negative points, but the positive points far outweigh them. It's a good, fun beat 'em up to play; there's a large roster of characters (even if many of them do look very similar), you can unlock cool stuff like concept art and development sketches (something that as an artist I love to see in games), and the story mode should in my view replace "Arcade Mode" as the default gameplay mode in beat 'em ups forever more. MK is number one because it has taken a rather stagnant genre and come up with a brilliant way of pushing it forwards - hopefully others will follow the example in 2012!
- Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition (Arcade/PC/PS3/Xbox 360)
An improvement to already (in my opinion) the best beat 'em up out there. Not enough of a step up over Super Street Fighter IV to warrant a place in my "best of" list, and I do find the practice of releasing the same game three times with only minor tweaks - but disproportionately large price-tags - to be a bit of a kick in the teeth to fans who rushed out and bought the first one on release day.
- Dragon Age II (PC/PS3/Xbox 360)
I picked this one up pretty late because I assumed that I'd dislike it on the grounds that I didn't think much of Dragon Age Origins. I was happily surprised, though, once I started getting into this game; the combat is like what was tried with Final Fantasy XII all those years ago, except that this time it works! The storyline is instantly engaging, the characters are actually cool this time round, and you can make your protagonist look distinctive too. All massive improvements over the previous game, and helping to make this a very strong 2011 release.
- Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of the Two Worlds (PS3/Xbox 360)
Good game. Sadly, it can be summed up as "like Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, with Marvel Characters instead”. Therefore, although it's a very fun game, it's too much like what Capcom did in previous years for it to make it into the top games of the year in my opinion.
- Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy (PSP)
Another fine sequel that wasn't far enough removed from the original to make my list. The original Dissidia was one of the many games that started me off raving about it to all my friends, who totally didn't care because they were nowhere near as excited about it as me. One day I'll run out of friends if this continues... This sequel was a little bit different, but I'm not actually sure I even prefer it to the original, despite the boosted character roster.
And finally, disappointment of the year: The 3rd Birthday. This could have been such a good game! I was hooked when I started playing, with the awesome gameplay mechanic of swapping around between the bodies of various "disposable grunt" soldiers to battle off alien spawn. As the guy you're in gets low on health or ammo, you'd hide him and jump into someone else, or jump around tactically placing all your allies for a coordinated strike on a big enemy. The boss battles were awesome too!
But then the game went on too long, and bits started to annoy me. I'd have preferred a shorter game with replayability rather than the repetitive, padded-out affair we ended up with. The story was deliberately confusing, so much that I found myself losing interest in it. And Aya is unfortunately afflicted with a condition whereby the more she gets shot the more her clothes fly off. This is absolutely not needed in a game that should have stood up on its mechanics and fun, but chose instead to focus more and more on being "sexy" as the storyline wore on. And on. And on.